INS crime lab not meeting case deadlines

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is taking longer to process important forensic cases involving document fraud despite increases in its staff and a new case priority system, according to a report from the General Accounting Office.

The INS Forensic Document Laboratory (FDL) is divided into forensic and intelligence sections. It focuses on detecting document fraud involving suspected terrorists, criminal aliens and illegal immigrants. Forensic examiners study handwriting, fingerprints, suspected counterfeit documents and other material, and often testify in court. Intelligence officers provide technical advice to domestic and foreign government officials and work with them to combat illegal immigration and document fraud. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the laboratory has worked with the FBI to identify and develop evidence against suspected terrorists, including passports recovered from airplane crash sites.

In fiscal 2001, the FDL took seven extra days to close custody cases and 23 additional days to complete criminal cases than it did in fiscal 2000, GAO found. Although the laboratory's staff increased about 11 percent between fiscal 1999 and fiscal 2001, and although the agency made cases involving criminals and individuals in INS custody its highest priority, more case review responsibilities and an inefficient data management system have made it hard to meet deadlines, GAO said.

"According to FDL officials, FDL's ability to process forensic cases in a timely manner has been affected by staff shortages, despite increases in staff levels, and laboratory accreditation requirements," the report, "INS Forensic Document Laboratory: Several Factors Impeded Timeliness of Case Processing," (GAO-02-410) said. Between fiscal 2000 and fiscal 2001, the laboratory's case backlog also increased 38 percent, according to GAO.

Although FDL added staff between fiscal 1999 and fiscal 2001, too many existing employees had supervisory responsibilities, which reduced the time they could spend examining cases. Other employees were unable to conduct forensic examinations until they finished their training programs, according to GAO.

"FDL officials said that a section chief performs almost no casework and that supervisors spend approximately 30 percent of their time on casework and 70 percent of their time on management responsibilities," the report said.

After Sept. 11, Congress gave FDL about $8 million in emergency supplemental funds and authorized 31 additional jobs, including 17 forensic examiner positions, for the lab. But FDL needs time to recruit, hire and train the new staff and "the impact of these increases on case completion time and reduction in pending caseload will not be immediate and remain to be seen," the report said.

Additional case review responsibilities and FDL's obsolete automated database have also contributed to longer case processing times and a greater case backlog. FDL earned professional accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors in February 2001, increasing case review standards. The laboratory's four-year-old database does not contain enough data to allow managers to know the exact status of FDL's pending workload or how much time employees spend on each forensic case. FDL's system of setting deadlines also does not always reflect the requester's deadline.

GAO recommended that FDL examiners create deadlines that serve customer needs, but also fit with their own case priority system. The report also urged FDL to collect and analyze data on the total amount of time spent processing forensic cases to help the lab better manage its workload.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.